History of Campari

CampariIn talking about Lombardy, I’ve overlooked an important part of Milano culinary history: The aperitivo…or in more common language, the apéritif.

Aperitifs are meal openers, whetting the appetite and opening one’s taste buds with bittersweet flavors.

Campari is one such apertivo, introduced in Italy in the 1860′s by Gaspare Campari. Gaspare was a master drink maker at the Bass Bar in Turin by the age 14. His recipe for Campari contained more than 60 natural ingredients including herbs, spices, barks and fruit peels.Campari initially named his scarlet colored drink Bitter all’uso d’Hollandia, to capitalize on the popularity of Dutch cordials at the time. Obviously the apertif had no connection with Holland. That didn’t stop the unique drink from catching on.

Campari ushered in the modern age of bar advertizing. They allowed bar owners in Northern Italy and Southern France to buy the Campari products to sell it at their bars under the condition that the buyers display the ‘Campari Bitters’ sign at their location. The idea took off, and Campari became very popular.

Campari is a mild bitters-type apéritif, often drunk with soda, orange juice, or in mixed drinks. The formula for Campari is a secret known only to the factory director at the main production facility in Milan. But I can tell you that Campari does contain quinine, rhubarb, ginseng, orange peels and aromatic herbs. These are combined and macerated in a blend of distilled water and alcohol for a couple of weeks.

In Italy, they serve Campari in a frozen glass, using very cold Campari, without ice and with a splash of soda. When you add the soda, you release the flavors.


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